Congress is currently considering a bill that would require colleges and universities – as well as affiliated sororities and fraternities – to prepare fire safety reports and make them available to the public.
The Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act of 2007, currently in committee in both the House and Senate, would also call on the Secretary of Education to report to Congress on the fire safety of campuses nationwide within two years of the bill’s enactment. A similar act was introduced last year, but failed to garner a sufficient number of votes.
“We would hugely support a bill of this type,” said Fire Engineer Rick Pinal of Santa Barbara County Fire Station 17. Fire Station 17 is located on campus and serves all of UCSB and part of Isla Vista.
As the law currently stands, schools have the option of voluntarily making reports on their fire safety available to organizations such as the Princeton Review, which publishes them in an online database, said Ed Comeau, publisher of Campus Firewatch, a newsletter targeted towards campus fire safety. Comeau said UCSB is listed in Princeton Review’s database as not having given enough information to formulate a rating.
However, Wilfred Brown, executive director of Housing and Residential Services, said UCSB has been more proactive than most other universities in recent years by installing sprinklers and smoke detection systems.
Brown said sprinklers were installed in Francisco Torres Residence Hall during a renovation four years ago and in San Miguel Hall last summer. San Nicolas Hall is scheduled to have sprinklers installed during the coming summer, making all high-rise housing equipped with sprinklers. In addition, he said all rooms have smoke detectors, as required by law.
“We’ve had smoke detectors hardwired into the dorms for as long as I’ve worked here,” Brown said.
According to Captain Mark Beeson of Station 17, fire-detection systems have become more sophisticated over the years.
“We used to just see a red light indicating that there was a fire, but now we have a system that can tell us which smoke detectors are activated and where they are located,” Beeson said.
Brown said the last fire he could remember in a residence hall occurred in Anacapa Hall about four years ago when a student’s computer caught on fire.
“Fortunately, the fire contained itself, and didn’t spread,” Brown said.
While it is laudable that UCSB is safe and prepared for a major fire, Comeau said the campus should not be the main focus of fire safety regulation, as 90 percent of student fatalities from fires occur in off-campus housing.
“Unfortunately, the focus of this bill is on campus,” Comeau said.
Fraternity and sorority houses are, however, included in the bill. Beeson said the same rules that apply to houses also apply to greek houses: Smoke detectors are required in every room, and sprinklers must be installed if the home has been newly remodeled or built.
As reported in a 2004 Daily Nexus article, several Isla Vista fraternity houses were cited as not being up to fire code standards at the time. In the article, Captain Wes Herman of Station 17 said fraternities often let fire safety systems deteriorate; specifically, extinguishers are discharged or missing, smoke detectors are down or without batteries and attic access coverage is missing – allowing a fire to run the length of a building in a short period of time.
In the article, Herman said that most sorority houses tend to keep higher standards regarding fire safety.
As for the current situation in regards to I.V. fire safety, Pinal said there have been very few recent fires in the community’s many apartments, houses, or fraternity and sorority houses. He said, however, that there have been several dumpster, trash can and couch fires.
The most recent I.V. fire occurred on Jan. 8 in the Westwinds Apartments complex on El Colegio Road. No one was hurt, although upon returning to the complex, the tenants were chastised by firefighters for not having batteries in any of the apartment’s three smoke detectors.